Monday, July 7, 2014

Churchill Commencement Speech 2014

Well thank you all so much for having me. It is such a huge honor for me to be standing here as your very first alumni graduation speaker. I want to sincerely thank Mrs. Perrett for the offer, and Dr. Benz for accepting.

Graduation is a time when you feel all sorts of emotion. Some of you may be wondering how you’re even graduating in the first place. For those folks, I can assure you - your teachers are wondering the same thing.

But just remember, we the best:

“DJ Kahled’s All I Do Is Win”

Just 7 years ago, I was sitting exactly where you all are today. So although I know some of you are scared of what comes next, I can tell you from my experience that you should not be.

Why? Because if I can do it, so can you.   

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer that is rarely found in children. At the time, I was one of only 25 kids in the country with that disease. Years later when I was 21, doctors found a rare heart condition known as WPW. The doctors deemed my condition to be a "special case" because only a very small percentage of people, with that rare condition, develop symptoms at such a young age.  And last year, at 23 years old, I found myself back in the hospital after doctors discovered that my heart condition resurfaced - a recurrence of that disease after treatment occurs in less than 1% of patients.

In each of these situations, whether it was with my diagnosis or with the surgeries that followed, I was that rare anomaly you hear about in the brochures. I was that “special case”.

So, when my doctor told me that laughter was the best, and quite frankly, the only medicine I needed, I realized that I should have seen a real doctor instead of Dr. Dre.

Anyway, I’ve been through a lot. But through all of that, I’ve learned 2 important lessons.    

First, I've learned that the best way to help myself is to help others. 

I remember a doctor once came into the hospital room, where 10 other kids were getting chemo alongside me. The doctor took time out of his small lunch break to dress up as a clown, go around to each of our beds, and perform some small magic tricks to distract us from the pain. And that's precisely the moment I became inspired to give back. So today, I now perform charity magic shows, and try to give back every second I can.   

The take-away: I’ve learned that the only way to truly guarantee success in life is to be extremely kind, extremely generous, and extremely humble. If you all do this, even if success doesn’t come right away, I can promise you that it will come.

Because in the end, good things always happen to good people. You just have to wait for that golden ticket.

In my life, it took me 7 years to get my golden ticket. But because I worked hard, because I stayed humble and generous, and because I was patient, I now have my dream job, and get to work in a place that I really love.

Second, I've learned to have a positive attitude no matter what I’m going through. 

During my first chemotherapy session, I remember feeling really down about myself and the situation I was in. I looked at all my friends and classmates, and thought to myself, "Why can't I be like them? It's just not fair. I don’t think I can do this."

But as soon as I turned my head and looked around the hospital room, every other child there was not only younger than me, but they each had harsher treatments, and for longer periods of time. Then it hit me. 

"Wow, I am the luckiest kid in this hospital."

The takeaway: if you ever think that you can’t do something, if you ever think you’re not good enough, not capable enough, or not smart enough, please trust me when I tell you that you can do anything. I’ve literally been one breath away from death, 3 times before hitting the age of 25. But look at me now. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, and I have the privilege of speaking to you all today.  

Of course, there are still moments where I lose my positivity. Things can get to the best of us all. But these days, whenever I start to get overwhelmed, I do what any self-respecting, 24 year old, healthy, good looking guy would do...I get in my car, roll the windows down, and blast some of that Frozen “Let It Go” music. Hey, I just can’t hold it back anymore.

But please, just remember to not let the struggles of today get in the way of the potential of tomorrow.

Now, I want to end with a quote by the late and great Nelson Mandela.

But first, let me take a selfie.

Nelson Mandela once said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived it. It is the difference we have made, to the lives of others, that will determine the significance of the lives we lead today.”

So, graduating class of 2014, please think about the lives you are all going to lead once you step out those doors today.

Because if you lead it right, you never know what great things can happen – and maybe even one day, you’ll find yourself lucky enough to get invited to be the commencement speaker at your high school’s graduation.

Thanks so much!

*Thanks to Churchill High School for the video

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Case for Big Government

The major back-and-forth between conservatives and liberals is the question of how large of a role government should play in our society.

While liberals believe that bigger government can serve to benefit the masses, conservatives feel that big government is wasteful, inefficient, and makes people less independent. And, in some cases, that can be true. But every organization – public or private – has inherent waste and abuse. Even a successfully run company will always suffer a small percentage waste and certain inefficiencies.

But in the same way a business will never forgo certain investments and opportunities - regardless of the potential of waste and abuse – our government should never limit the role it plays in our society.

I’m a first generation American. I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and have had 2 minor heart surgeries. My parents are successful small business owners, have needed unemployment benefits and student loans, and have lived off the minimum wage. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that big government was critical to our success.

My mom migrated to this country when she was 18 years old. While enrolled as a full-time student at a community college, she also worked full-time at a nursing home for minimum wage ($3.25 an hour). However, since the minimum wage was only $3.25 an hour, she also needed student loans. In other words, without help from the government, my mother would not have been able to attend college.

When I was born, my mom had a job that paid a meager $20,000 a year, and my father had just started his own business in an outdoor flea market.  At that point, we were part of the working poor, and thus needed help from the government in the form of tax breaks aimed at working families (earned income tax credit and child tax credit).

When my sister was born, and while my dad’s business continued to struggle, my mom’s company unexpectedly laid her off due to downsizing. To help us pay our bills – and keep our home – while my parents struggled to find additional work, we needed unemployment benefits. In other words, without government stepping in, my parents would not have been able to survive.

When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with cancer, even though I had always taken very good care of myself. But because I was fortunate enough to be covered under my parents’ health insurance, I was able to afford yearly check-ups with my doctor. This, in turn, allowed the doctors to find my tumor at an early stage. And because my parents were able to afford the monthly premiums which allowed them to have access to health insurance, we did not have to pay many of the out-of-pocket expenses for my treatment (which was very expensive).

And during the last few years, after undergoing 2 minor heart surgeries for a condition that surfaced as a side-effect of the chemotherapy I took years earlier, I was not kicked off my insurance or locked in to higher premiums because of the Affordable Care Act.

My family and I understand the value that government played in our success. We understand that government can invest in its citizens in the same way that a business would invest in its employees or goods and services. We understand that government can serve to ensure equality of opportunity (not outcome). And we understand that no one in this country – regardless of your profession or economic status – can succeed without big government.

As such, without the necessary assistance and guidance, my family would not be as self-sufficient and independent as we are today. Without a strong partner in a government that supports those who work hard and play by the rules, we would not be allowed to reap the fruits of our labor.

Regardless of what political party you belong to, both liberals and conservatives benefit from big government. If you've ever attended a public school; ever needed a tax break; ever used a bank loan; ever needed to buy insurance; ever bought a consumer good; ever started a business; you've needed a strong government –and its regulations.   

So the argument that “big government is bad government” is unfounded. Instead, having such a government further encourages competition, strengthens capitalism, maintains fairness, and helps people become more independent.

Just as it always has with my family. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Final Countdown

My mom migrated to this country when she was 18 years old. To help support her family, she worked full-time at nursing home for minimum wage ($3.25 an hour) while enrolling full-time at a community college. At that point, she needed student loans.

When I was born, my mom had a job that paid a meager $20,000 a year, and my father had just started his own business in an outdoor flea market.  At that point, we needed tax breaks aimed at working families (earned income tax credit and child tax credit).

When my sister was born, my dad’s business was still struggling, while my mom’s company had just laid her off due to downsizing. At that point, we needed unemployment benefits to survive.

But my parents would never consider themselves “dependent on government”. We were always hardworking and responsible, but still found ourselves in difficult situations that were out of our control. So when the government stepped in to help, we saw it as an investment, not a hand-out.

And because of the significant role government had in our lives, my parents are finally very successful small business owners.

And that is exactly why I support this President – because he is doing everything he can to help others attain those same investments that helped my family.

This includes healthcare reform – ie. Obamacare.

I have always taken very good care of myself – I always watch what I eat, always exercise, never drink, never smoke. Still, by the tender age of 24, I have battled cancer and 2 heart surgeries. I am an insurance company’s worst nightmare. So without Obamacare, what am I supposed to do if something happens to me again?

Thanks to this law, I won’t have to worry.
Thanks to this law, 129 million can’t be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition.
Thanks to this law, 3 million young adults can stay on their parents’ plans until 26.
Thanks to this law, 6 million people are covered for the first time in their lives.
Thanks to this law, insurers must spent 80% of your premiums on actual care.

This President has done everything he can possibly do to make this law work. He has compromised with Republicans on the individual mandate and on creating state-based exchanges. He has even made significant political sacrifices to ensure the law works for everyone.

And it will work for everyone. But only if we all work together to continue improving the law, instead of trying to derail it before it’s fully effective.

Tomorrow is the deadline for open enrollment. There’s no reason not to sign up, or at least take the time to view all the options.

Healthcare reform is still a topic of much political debate. But I have yet to hear any promising alternatives, or any logical opposition.  If you’re anything like me or my family, I can ensure you that it’s the right thing to do, and the best time to support it. Laws like this do not come around that often. But when they do, we all need to stand together. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Healthcare - The Saga Continues

Today marks four years since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. And yet the law still remains one of the most controversial.

Some critics have continued to question the effectiveness of law, especially when we've seen certain individuals take advantage of similar large government programs in the past.

First, it is important to understand that some level of abuse is inherently present in any large program, both in the public and private sectors alike. In fact, I would even argue that, especially looking back at an unregulated Wall-Street during the previous administration, there has been far more, and far worse, abuse and corruption within the private sector.

Second, although no one denies that the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, is seems premature to discredit and disqualify the significant benefits the law has. In fact, without the law, millions of Americans would have continued to be denied access to affordable and quality health insurance.

Without the law, cancer survivors like myself, children with preexisting conditions, young adults under the age of 26, hardworking taxpayers, and seemingly healthy individuals, would be forced into bankruptcy if additional illness strikes.  

Going a step further, it seems dishonest for certain groups to downplay the impact other large government programs have had, over the simple fact that each has witnessed certain levels of abuse.

For example, I've heard many on the right criticize the government for providing unemployment benefits to those searching for work, arguing that it creates a greater sense of dependence, and dissuades people from working.

There is no justifying the fact that there have been certain people who game the system (in the same way that certain CEOs have abused the financial system for their own personal gains). But without such government programs, millions more would unjustly suffer.

My mother came to America when she was 18. She worked a full-time job at a nursing home for minimum wage ($3.25 an hour) while enrolled full-time at a community college. To help pay for her education, she also took student loans. After graduating, she got married to my dad and found work for a meager salary of $20,000 a year. While I was born and my father continued struggling to start his own business, my mother became the head breadwinner of our family. She also needed to take advantage of certain tax breaks aimed at working families, such as the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit. After seven years of working hard, however, her company laid her off because of downsizing. She then had to survive off unemployment benefits for 6 months as she had her second child, my younger sister. 

Without help from the government, my parents would not have been able to grow their small business into a successful enterprise, and we would not have been able to move out of poverty.   

The point is that hardworking, honest people should not have to suffer because they are put in situations they have no control over.

And that is exactly the purpose of the Affordable Care Act. That is also the purpose of many of the President’s initiatives, and why I am such an incredibly strong supporter of his Administration.

Yes there are kinks to be fixed. But when GOP leaders are offering absolutely ZERO help; when they have simply offered over 40 times to repeal the law instead of trying to improve it; when they are now rejecting the same ideas they originally advocated for and requested the President to compromise on (ie. the individual mandate, or state-based exchanges); when they have publicly supported obstructionism over compromise; I consider that a far worse abuse of the system than Obamacare or any other law and initiative the President puts forward.

If you still disagree, I urge you to checkout and see for yourself. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Let’s make this a year of action

I am a cancer survivor, a member of an ethnic minority, a recent college graduate, and a first generation American. My parents are small business owners, victims of gun violence, and have benefited from student loans and unemployment benefits.

Mom came to America when she was 18. She worked a full-time job at a nursing home for minimum wage ($3.25 an hour) while enrolling full-time at community college. To help pay for her education, she took student loans. After graduating, she got married to my dad and found work for a meager salary of $20,000 a year. She also needed to take advantage of certain tax breaks aimed at working families, such as the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit. After 7 years of working hard, however, her company laid her off because of downsizing. She was laid off through no fault of her own, and needed unemployment benefits while searching for other work. She later joined my father in a business he created. 

But my parents would never consider themselves “dependent on government”. In fact, we believe government is dependent on us. And when we work hard and are responsible, we see nothing “socialist” or “un-American” by asking our government for assistance. It’s not called a hand-out, but more of an investment.

And it’s these types of investments that the President spoke about in his State of the Union address last night.

“For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate…but when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy – when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people." 

Last night’s State of the Union Address was a great testament to the leadership of President Obama. Not only did he highlight the many successes of his administration, but he also chose to rise above the bitter partisanship that has divided our Congress and, instead, address how we can continue moving forward.

First and foremost, it is necessary to understand the significant improvements in the state of our union since the President took office.

Five years ago, our economy was shedding nearly 800,000 jobs per month. Today, our economy has added more than 8 million new jobs and unemployment has fallen to less than 7% after peaking at 10.2% in 2010.

Five years ago, the U.S. auto-industry was going bankrupt. Today, U.S. auto-makers have not only repaid their debt, but are even doubling their fuel-efficiency standards, thus significantly reducing our dependence on foreign oil and saving the average vehicle around $8,000 a year.
Five years ago, our housing market crashed. Today, the housing market has rebounded and home foreclosure rates are at an all-time low. One major reason for this is that the President has made it significantly easier for people to refinance their homes. Prior to the President’s HARP program, many responsible homeowners were stuck at high refinancing rates because home values in their neighborhood plummeted after the financial crisis. By preventing banks from denying lower refinancing rates to these individuals, the average homeowner now saves an average of $3,000 a year in mortgage payments. As the President puts it, "When folks are spending less on mortgage payments, they’re spending more at local businesses. And when those businesses have more customers, they start hiring more workers."

And finally, five years ago, our healthcare system was broken. What’s worse, according to the American Journal of Medicine, medical debt due to lack or loss of health insurance accounted for more than 60% of all bankruptcies.

Today, however, healthcare costs have grown at the slowest rate in our history. For the first time ever, 3 million young adults can stay on their parents’ insurance until 26. For the first time ever, 6 million Americans now have coverage that couldn’t before. For the first time ever, 129 million Americans can’t be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition. For the first time ever, private insurers must spend at least 80% of your premiums on actual healthcare (last year, 9 million Americans received a rebate from their insurance companies).

But with all these successes, if Congress continues to stand in the way of progress; if they continue to ignore the President’s call for a new jobs program, for new gun control measures, or for immigration reform; if they simply continue voting to repeal Obamacare instead of offering concrete alternatives; then I see nothing wrong with the President taking matters into his own hands.

Let’s move FORWARD and make this year “a year of action”.